Saša Cvjetan, convicted for murder of women and children in Podujevo, set free before sentence expires
On March 8, 2018, the Higher Court in Belgrade issued a decision to release Saša Cvjetan, a former member of the „Scorpions” police unit, sentenced to twenty years in prison for killing fourteen Albanian civilians in Podujevo in March 1999. He has served over two thirds of the sentence to which he was convicted. The Humanitarian Law Center (HLC) points out that, with the Higher Court granting Cvjetan’s request to be released early from prison, the sentence to which he was convicted for grave crimes committed against civilians loses its meaning, and the victims’ sufferings are being neglected.
On March 28, 1999, members of the Serbian police unit known as the “Scorpions”, among them Cvjetan, in the Gashi family yard in Podujevo shot fourteen Albanian civilians – seven children aged from two to fifteen, and seven women: Shpetim Bogujevci (10), Shpend Bogujevci (13), Sala Bogujevci (39), Nora Bogujevci (15), Shefkate Bogujevci (43), Shehide Bogujevci (67), Nefise Bogujevci Llugaliu (54), Fezdrije Llugialiu (21), Dafina Duriqi (9), Arber Duriqi (7), Mimoze Duriqi (4), Albin Duriqi (2), Fitnete Duriqi (36) and Isma Duriqi (69). Five children who survived the shooting suffered serious injuries – Saranda, Fatos, Jehona, Lirije and Genc Bogujevci.
In 2005, Saša Cvjetan was convicted for this crime before the District Court in Belgrade; and in 2010, other perpetrators of the crime in Podujevo – Dragan Borojević, Miodrag Šolaja and Dragan Medić, were convicted. In 2011, after a retrial, Željko Djukić was also convicted.
Saša Cvjetan spent sixteen years and four months in two correctional institutions – prisons in Sremska Mitrovica and in Belgrade. He was released on March 22, 2018, more than three and a half years before the sentence was set to expire, after his request for parole had been adopted. The reasons for such a decision were that Cvjetan had served two-thirds of his sentence, that the process of his resocialization had been successfully completed, and that it was expected that Cvjetan would behave well and would not commit a new criminal offence during the parole period.
As stated in the report presented by Sremska Mitrovica Prison, which was the basis for the Higher Court’s issuing of a decision in favour of release on parole, while staying in Sremska Mitrovica Prison Cvjetan was working as a foreman in the labour brigade, and since 2017, had been in the semi-open department of the prison, which allowed him the benefits of leaving prison once every two months, weekend absences every month for three days, as well as going on vacation. It was said in the report that during the execution of the sentence, Cvjetan “performed his work obligations without complaint, his behavior was in accordance with the rules of the prison, the support of the primary family and the spouse is constant, and after serving the sentence, the prisoner has a plan to obtain employment”. For these reasons, in the opinion of the officials of correctional institution, the court should comply with Cvjetan’s request and release him on conditional parole.
That Saša Cvjetan was successfully resocialized during the serving of the sentence, the Higher Court confirmed by its decision stating that “it can be expected that the sentenced Cvjetan Saša will well behave, and that especially during the parole period he will not commit a new criminal offense “. In this regard, although the legal requirements for an early release were fulfilled (Cvjetan served more than two-thirds of his sentence and received a positive opinion of the Penitentiary institution on his behavior during the serving of the sentence), the court should not decide by automatism. Namely, in the case of a conviction for serious crimes such as war crimes against civilians, the law provides that the court may but do not have to decide to release the convict on parole. Precisely for the reason that the serious crimes result in serious suffering of victims and have numerous serious consequences, beside the legal requirements being fulfilled, the HLC considers that the court should also take into account other circumstances that would confirm the justification for an early release. Some of the circumstances that the court should have considered are the expression of sincere remorse for the crime conducted compassion for the victims and their suffering, as well as confession of the crime. However, these circumstances were not mentioned in the decision of the Higher Court.
None of the above stated circumstances was in favor of Saša Cvjetan. He was convicted for taking part in the murder of fourteen women and children, severely injuring five more children, the youngest of whom was six years old, and during the trial he never expressed remorse but pleaded not guilty, arguing that the proceedings had a “political background” and that he personally “never shot civilians and children.” The regret for the victims’ suffering was expressed only declaratively as part of an attempt to reduce his own responsibility.
The HLC’s position is that the court should not have accepted Cvjetan’s request for an early release on parole, both because of the gravity of the committed crime and the consequences that it caused, which is why he was sentenced to a maximum sentence of imprisonment. With the release on parole, as well as with granting of the privileges to prisoners sentenced for war crimes during their imprisonment, the institutions of the Republic of Serbia are denying war crimes trials and reducing the severity of the sentences. As a reminder, after the death of Slobodan Medić on December 31, 2013, in a traffic accident, the public learned that he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the killing of six Bosniaks committed in 1995 in Trnovo near Srebrenica, but at the time of the accident, during New Year holidays he was temporary released.
Bearing in mind that each year the number of indictments issued for war crimes decreases, and that the trials last unreasonably long, the early release of the sentenced war criminals on parole additionally severely violates the victims’ right to justice and recognition of their suffering. Therefore, the HLC requires courts to consider the manner in which the offense was committed, expressions of genuine remorse for the committed crime, the suffering of the victims and the consequences with which survivors still deal, when deciding on the application for an early conditional release from prison.